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14 December 2007



Ad Infinitum: A Biography of Latin


by Nicholas Ostler

© 2007 Nicholas Ostler

Walker Publishing


Chapter 11


Lapsus linguae

Incurable Romantics: Fractured Latin…


After the collapse of the Empire in the west, Latin began to split into what we now see not as a language but a language family, the vernacular languages of western Europe, collectively known as Romance [French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Romanian]. It turned out that this, not the spread of alien languages, was the ultimate linguistic effect of the Germanic invasion from the northeast and the Afro-Asiatic (of Arabs and Berbers) from the southwest. The middle and latter part of the first millennium AD was a period of social “hamletization,” when horizons became narrower for many people, and the chances of wide-scale activity, e.g., travel, correspondence, or trade, were highly restricted outside the topmost cities. Without an overarching government, movement beyond the local market town became too costly and too dangerous to be undertaken without an exceptional reason. The resulting fragmentation of Latin, hitherto a highly unitary language across its wide range, is the best example we have of how a former imperial language can split when the political conditions of unity and mutual contact are no longer maintained.

Latin was transformed on the lips of its speakers into a profusion of different dialects that were one day to become recognized as languages in their own right. The intrinsic changeability of language, the code passed on not quite perfectly from generation to generation, began to assert itself, and the speech of the different communities went off in separate directions. The story of how this happened is fascinating in itself, although the changes took place largely unconsciously. To tell it or understand it requires a certain tough-minded determination to see Latin not (as contemporaries did) as rule-governed text on the page, but as a vast set of spoken words, each taking its part in a system, the mental grammar, that made the language make sense. As local accents changed the pronunciation of certain sounds, various words’ grammatical relations to other words became less obvious, or even quite impenetrable. New generations of language learners made sense of how the language worked in slightly new ways. The changes rippled throughout the system, causing new systems to form, which became the grammars of the new, Romance languages. First and foremost, then, Romance is the name for any more or less distorted form of Latin, as the language gradually evolved and split apart in the latter first millennium.


pages 161-162



The New York Times/8 December 2007


Canadian Retailer Bans Some Plastic Bottles

Outdoors Chain Cites Health Fear

by Ian Austen

OTTAWA, Dec 7—A line of water bottles that had become a symbol of environmental responsibility has been removed from the shelves of Canada’s leading outdoor gear retailer over concerns about a chemical used in its manufacture.

The Mountain Equipment Corporation, which is based in Vancouver, British Columbia, removed the bottles sold under the brand name Nalgene, and other polycarbonate containers from its 11 large-scale stores on Wednesday.

The retailer said that it would not restock the bottles which are made by Nalge Nunc International in Rochester, a unit of Thermo Fisher Scientific, until Health Canada completed a review of bisphenol-a, or B.P.A., a chemical used to make hard, transparent plastics as well as liners for food cans.…

[I should have thrown out my Nalgene bottle when it didn’t smell right. Instead, I contacted Nalgene and told them about the odor. They were very accommodating and sent me a new bottle, told me to wash it in the dishwasher and to scrub it in hot, hot water. I doubt that the peculiar odor I noticed had anything to do with B.P.A., but still...

I acquired this bottle because of a joint promotion that Nalgene was doing with Brita, the filter outfit. Their website is, and getting rid of thowaway plastic water bottles is a good idea. Still, er, uh, it turns out that there are studies dating back to 1936 that show that B.P.A. can disrupt the hormonal system. And I need mine. Ed.]



Los Angeles Times/8 December 2007/World in Brief


Step taken toward ban on Scientology


German federal and state interior ministers declared the Church of Scientology in conflict with the constitution, opening the way for a possible ban.

Germany does not recognize Scientology as a religion and regards it as a cult masquerading as a church to make money.…

The officials gave no specific examples [as basis] for their decision, but the most recent annual report on extremism compiled by their agencies asserted that Scientology “seeks to limit or rescind basic and human rights.”


remote therm


EACH WEEK we scan ads from an actual catalog, a catalog selling junque. (That's junk with cachet.) These ads are real. Maybe they don't seem real, but they are.

This week we feature an item from Brookstone, the Grill Alert®, a “talking remote thermometer.” And out of its singular, startling usefulness we will present it in isolation, allowing no other item to sully its, its...allowing no other item to...get near it, to, yes, steal, yes, fire. “Enjoy the party—Grill Alert® tells you when dinner is ready.” Let's have a look. Shall we? Approach and prepare to be amazed.


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